By Pascal Baker
The front-office, middle-office, back-office model has established itself as a standard business model over decades of operational evolution. Traditionally, the model splits client-facing work from supporting functions and transactional, data-heavy tasks. Splitting work up in this way, allows businesses to effectively split responsibilities. As a result of this work split, teams would exist for one responsibility and consequently develop processes individually to make their own work easier. While the original separations were logical and sensible when they were first established, they also took advantage of the only currency of work output: Humans. Given the evolution of process transformation and agile process technologies, processes that have not adapted have become discontinuous with handovers becoming clunky, illogical and definitely not customer centric. The model, whilst making sense twenty years ago, is outdated and limiting.
The time has come to think holistically. By using the technology available, this split can be reduced and operations can be streamlined.
The traditional tasks assigned to the 3 business functions are shown in the operating model in Figure 1. As you can see, the tasks are split by department in such a way that, for example, customer service has no interaction with report generation.
This departmental split was further accentuated by the introduction of BPO, as more and more work was migrated to cheaper locations. The tasks sent abroad were typically repetitive, rules-based and data-heavy; this effectively led to virtually the entire back-office being moved offshore! Having departments spread across different countries and/or time zones, exacerbates the disconnect in the global business structure.
With technology that allows us to remove tedious and repetitive work from human employees, we can leverage those same employees to focus on problem solving, customer-facing and high-value skills to manage difficult or unusual issues and support the customer directly. This is of much greater benefit to the business, its customers and just as importantly the employee base. In fact, we have consistently seen employee satisfaction raising and attrition reducing as a result of Intelligent Transformation. The horror stories that automation is killing jobs in the same way as outsourcing is simply not true, jobs are being made more relevant and interesting to providers and recipients of the service.
Enhanced technologies will continue to be developed and produced, so it is important to think ahead and improve your business with the future in mind. Bear in mind, that while back-office roles are typically seen as the automatable work, the reality is not that black and white.
The approach to assigning work should be less about categorizing tasks into one silo area or the other and more about qualifiers; qualifiers that assess a task’s suitability for intelligent automation. For RPA, the qualifiers for tasks are those that are rules-based and repetitive, have few exceptions and compatible data types. However, advances in technologies that can process complex data types (such as images and voice) can be combined with RPA to expand the range of possibilities. Clients will have the opportunity to interact with both a human workforce and a virtual workforce to get the best of both worlds, as shown in the Future of Work target operating model below.
Remember that the secret to a successful digitized business is in the combination of people, processes and technology. Processes sit at the heart of any business operation. By intelligently assigning tasks to people and technology, you can avoid having people completing dull and repetitive work that they may come to resent. When people are given work that is more interesting and of higher value, they will be happier and more motivated to work and you will get the best out of them.
Having a clear end-to-end understanding of your business will allow you to better assess, design and implement changes that provide maximum benefit. As new technologies arrive and client demands change, you will be able to adapt to these with ease. Reducing the need for offshore offices to bring down costs means that you can bring all processes in-house. This way you can control and influence them without disconnect.
A team of people who are properly engaged and feeling that their work is valuable will serve customers better; faster and more accurate processing via automation will reduce customer issues; and a more fluid and connected workflow will allow for transparency and clarity. Clients tend to care less about how their issues are fixed – and more about having a solution delivered quickly and without fuss.
While the Front, Middle, Back-Office split is not completely obsolete, it is important to make sure your business structure exists to optimize the running of your business. You decide what is optimal by looking at the business holistically, eradicating any disconnect and ensuring your human and virtual employees are working where they can bring the most benefit.
This is part 6 of a 13-part blog series by leading experts at Symphony Ventures. We share the most important business considerations in the Future of Work and explain how to best prepare for digital transformation.
Be sure to read the previous blog: The Beauty of Standardization